Concomitant targeting of BCL2 with venetoclax and MAPK signaling with cobimetinib in acute myeloid leukemia models

Han, L., Zhang, Q., Dail, M. et al.

The pathogenesis of acute myeloid leukemia involves serial acquisition of mutations controlling several cellular processes, requiring combination therapies affecting key downstream survival nodes to effectively treat the disease. The BCL2 selective inhibitor venetoclax has potent anti-leukemia efficacy; however, resistance can occur due to its inability to inhibit MCL1, which is stabilized by the MAPK pathway. In this study, we aimed to determine the anti-leukemia efficacy of concomitant targeting of BCL2 and MAPK pathways by venetoclax and MEK1/2 inhibitor cobimetinib respectively. The combination demonstrated synergy in 7 of 11 acute myeloid leukemia cell lines, including those resistant to single agents, and showed growth-inhibitory activity in over 60% of primary patient samples with diverse genetic alterations. The combination markedly impaired leukemia progenitor functions, while maintaining normal progenitors. Mass cytometry data revealed that BCL2 protein is enriched in leukemia stem/progenitor cells, primarily in venetoclax-sensitive samples and that cobimetinib suppressed cytokine-induced pERK and pS6 signaling pathways. Through proteomic profiling studies, we identified several pathways inhibited downstream of MAPK that contribute to the synergy of the combination. In OCI-AML3 cells, the combination downregulated MCL1 protein levels and disrupted both BCL2:BIM and MCL1:BIM complexes, releasing BIM to induce cell death. RNA sequencing identified several enriched pathways, including MYC, mTORC1, and p53 in cells sensitive to the drug combination. In vivo, the venetoclax-cobimetinib combination reduced leukemia burden in xenograft models using genetically engineered OCI-AML3 and MOLM13 cells. Our data thus provide a rationale for combinatorial blockade of MEK and BCL2 pathways in acute myeloid leukemia.


Han, L., Zhang, Q., Dail, M. et al. "Concomitant targeting of BCL2 with venetoclax and MAPK signaling with cobimetinib in acute myeloid leukemia models" Haematologica (2019): doi: 10.3324/haematol.2018.205534.